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SYFY WIRE Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker

Look at the size of that thing! New Star Wars docu director scavenged 1,000+ hours of footage

By Tara Bennett
Skywalker Legacy Debs Paterson

For Star Wars fans who love their extra features, the prestige exclusive on the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker digital/home video release is clearly the feature-length documentary, The Skywalker Legacy.

Clocking in at two full hours, the documentary, directed by Debs Paterson (Harlots, Strike Back), focuses on the two-year span of production for The Rise of Skywalker, combining 1,000 hours of brand-new, behind-the-scenes footage with archival video featuring key actors and sequences from the original Star Wars trilogy. Classic cast members including Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, and Billy Dee Williams bring the saga full circle in interviews and footage that celebrate their now-iconic characters and mythology.

Director Debs Paterson

Despite being a lifelong Star Wars fan, Paterson wasn’t particularly aiming to be the documentarian to memorialize the Skywalker mythology. But she was recommended by Michelle Rejwan, Lucasfilm SVP of Live Action and Development, to J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy — who were both spearheading the documentary project — and won the coveted gig.

From early 2018 through to finalizing The Skywalker Legacy doc in November 2019, Paterson’s life became all Star Wars, all of the time; Paterson shadowed Abrams’ preproduction and directing process and reviewed more than 250 hours of Lucasfilm archival material to weave into the contemporary narrative.

Recently released from Italian quarantine (she was on location in Italy for production when COVID-19 shut down everything), Paterson was able to spend the weekend of the early digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker enjoying audiences' social media reactions to her documentary. SYFY WIRE caught up with her via phone to ask about the highlights of her experience playing in the Star Wars sandbox.

With no shortage of special moments, from seeing Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) on set to observing C-3PO (Daniels) and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) walk around in costume, Paterson says it always managed to catch her out. “You catch this shiny thing in the corner of your eye and you're like, ‘Holy sh**, that's C-3PO!’” she says, laughing. “Or it was, ‘Holy sh**, we're on the Falcon right now. I'm sitting at the chessboard on the Millennium Falcon!’ That level of stuff was unbearably cool.”

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

But Paterson says getting to travel out to Jordan’s deserts to film the various sequences there ranks as one of Paterson's favorite memories from production. “The desert was astonishing,” she shares. “It's such a special place. They had seen some incredible accidents of light in the desert.”

In particular, she cites the scene in which Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) TIE Silencer attacks Rey on the desert planet of Pasaana. “The light on that day was the most incredible thing you've ever seen in your life," she says. "And the day before, and even up until like lunchtime on that day, [the light] had been quite average. But we suddenly had to make a change for some reason. And we were rushing over together and suddenly the light ... it’s like the desert knew what we needed. It was properly amazing.”

“And that day where they shot the last scene with Daisy was a special one,” Paterson continues, citing the final scene in which Rey (Daisy Ridley) embraces the Skywalker name back on Tatooine. “By the [Lars] farm [set], there was this rainbow. There was a lot to do, but everyone just stopped because it was so weird. Again, it was like the land knew that it was a special thing somehow.”

After coming from the fast-paced world of television production, Paterson admits that getting to immerse herself in the precise craftsmanship that’s become the hallmark of every Star Wars film was an utterly transformative filmmaking experience for her.

“You'd look at the workshops which were full of hundreds of people working on thousands of pieces of [materials],” she says, noting her deep appreciation for the various departments making the props, creatures, and costumes for TROS. “All the tiny details that would probably only be visible in the back of the shot, but somehow the cumulative effect of all of these things, and all of that work, and all of that love and creativity and craftsmanship is what you feel when you see it on the screen.”

John Williams Getty

Paterson also extends her love for the sounds of the saga and the compositions of maestro John Williams. She says that when Abrams found out about her love of Williams’ work, he invited her to a score recording session.

“J.J.'s so incredibly generous and knew that I loved listening to the music live,” she explains. “He just said, ‘Look, just come down whenever you'd like.’ So I got to be there in the room while John Williams is conducting the overture.”

The room was filled with 150 musicians, Williams conducting, and a host of VIP guests. “Everyone was there: Kathleen [Kennedy] and Chris Terrio and Michelle Rejwan. I'll never forget that to my dying day,” she says.

When it was all said and done, because she was collecting footage until the final day of TROS principal production, Paterson says she was there to watch Abrams and company wrap one actor after another. “Everyone kind of cried and hugged,” she remembers. “It did feel like an end of an era.”

The Skywalker Legacy documentary is available with the digital download of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and on the Blu-ray and 4K editions available on March 31.